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New State Law Protecting Police, Fire Budgets Irks Officials

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MADISON, Wis. (WTAQ) - As local officials start working on next year’s budgets, many are not happy with a new state law that protects police and fire departments from spending cuts.

Among the many items quietly put into the current state budget forces communities and counties to spend as much on police and fire services as they did last year – or else they could lose some of their state aid.

Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna told his hometown newspaper that the law is a “payoff to the unions.” He said the city of Appleton will have a $2.5 million shortfall next year if nothing’s cut – and other workers might face layoffs.

But James Palmer of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association calls the state mandate a good one. He said police and fire departments are normally the last ones to get budget cuts. But that’s not happening elsewhere anymore, and Palmer says the Wisconsin law makes sure people are protected.

He said a different law helps local leaders cover the expense, with a 38 to 75-cent monthly surcharge on phone bills. It’s called the “Police and Fire Protection Fee.” Dan Thompson of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities says cuts can be made to make police and fire departments more efficient. But he says the locals must, “crawl on their hands and knees” to the state Revenue Department to approve those exceptions. Thompson calls that a violation of home rule.

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